By Alix Norman
‘The Goddess of Love changed everything…’
This is the tagline for the exciting new publication Aphrodite’s Child, debut novel of Sarah Catherine Knights. Set in Cyprus during the early 1990s, it’s a story which will, no doubt, fascinate readers worldwide, but has a particular relevance to anyone who knows the island well. Despite its fictional content, the book draws on the real-life experiences of its author during the years her husband was posted to RAF Akrotiri, her skilled description conjuring up the sights, smells, sounds and events that make our island so unique. With its intriguing plotline and believable characters, it’s a novel that’s bound to be a success – a piece of fiction that augurs well for an author who, now in her early 60s, has been a long time coming.
“Cyprus was a fabulous posting, especially back in the early 90s,” says Sarah, who – along with her now retired husband – still maintains a house in Pissouri. “The island is a wonderful setting for a novel and was a large part of my inspiration. And I thought that life in RAF Akrotiri in particular would be an interesting place to write about from a woman’s perspective. There are lots of books about men and military things – but there aren’t so many from the woman’s point of view: being uprooted and dumped into this microcosm that’s separate from the rest of the island can be a huge upheaval in anyone’s life.”
And this is the trial that Emily, the protagonist in Aphrodite’s Child, undergoes as, removed from family and friends in England, she adjusts to unfamiliar territory: “When her RAF husband is posted to Cyprus for three years, Emily Blackwell jumps at the opportunity to escape her cosy life in the Cotswolds,” says the precis. “Embracing everything the island has to offer, she reinvents herself only to find that this new life brings its own heartache and tragedy. In a modern take on the myth of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, Emily’s experiences on Cyprus change her, and she comes to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her former existence. But the choices she makes will affect not only her, but everyone she loves…”
“The book begins in 1991,” Sarah explains, “during the same time that we were posted to the island. I thought it would be particularly interesting to base my characters in a time when mobiles, email and Skype weren’t commonplace, and it was easy to feel quite cut off from home. It was a wonderful period,” she continues, “a fabulous posting if you like that kind of lifestyle. We were all in our early thirties and forties, but being in Cyprus made us younger somehow, and it’s this idea of being reborn that gave the whole book its focus and title.”
Drawing strongly from her island experiences, Sarah has made Cyprus a central theme in the book: “I wanted the people in the book to talk about the place almost as if it were a character itself: the omnipresent heat bearing down, the fabulous villages and the chaos of Limassol. And my love of photography helped a great deal in visualising the places and scenes: I wanted the reader to be able to envisage the colours, the smells, the sounds of the island.”
With her clever use of descriptive passages in the introductory chapters, Sarah sets a familiar scene: “The lawn was short, coarse grass with wide blades; there were some otherworldly plants. She couldn’t recognise anything, except for some rather tired, red geraniums. At the fence she let her eyes follow the sky to the far horizon – she could see a mountain, shrouded in haze and cloud. The reality of her life swept over her – she was in an English enclave, in a foreign country, on an island in the Mediterranean.” This extract parallels, perhaps, what Sarah herself must have felt when she first arrived, and one wonders if there are other autobiographical elements to the novel.
“People do keep asking me if I’m Emily,” Sarah says with a laugh. “And to some extent it’s based on my experiences of being a young wife and mother discovering a foreign land; it’s strange when you don’t know anyone and you don’t have a job, you feel you should be doing something in this wonderful sunny place. It’s what Emily experiences at the start of the novel, before the island starts to change her.”
Having written the first few chapters many years ago, while she was still based in Cyprus, Sarah professes that literature has always been one of her great passions: “I’d dabbled in writing for many, many years, but three children, various jobs and a husband in the RAF meant I always stopped after a while,” she smiles. “So allowing myself a whole year of just writing was wonderful; I found the ideas poured out of me. It took over my life – sitting for hours in front of the screen, creating a whole world from the imagination – but I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
And there’s little doubt that readers will revel in the book just as much as Sarah has enjoyed writing it: the richly rounded characters, exquisite setting and riveting plotline ensure the storyline is both familiar and fresh. “Maybe there’s someone more adventurous inside me, waiting to break out,” Emily wonders, early on in the book. And one gets the feeling that this spirit of adventure is what has driven Sarah herself, at the age of 61, to write and publish her debut novel. A perfect marriage of personal experience and imaginative ideas, the book may have been a long time in the making, but it was well worth the wait. From Nissi to Polis, Aphrodite’s Child will be the beach read of the summer.
Currently available from Amazon for digital download; the paperback will follow shortly. For further information about the author and her publications, visit www.sarahcatherineknights.com